Stalked by a Priest
This Gorgeous Game (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux), Donna Freitas's new work of young adult fiction, is a first-person narrative of being stalked. Most stories that have emerged from the Catholic Church's abuse scandal detail the horrors of pedophilia and assault. Freitas's novel, about a bright teenager named Olivia Peters, demonstrates that being fawned over and called incessantly can be as terrifying as what are considered more "harmful" crimes. Especially if you are a junior in high school, and the person fawning over you is a Catholic priest.
Freitas, a religion scholar at Boston University, is best known for Sex and the Soul, her 2008 study of young adults' attitudes on spirituality and sexuality. She identifies as a "stubborn Catholic," writing for The Washington Post amid recent media coverage of the scandal, "I am still here despite my struggles to remain a Catholic and despite my scars, too …. My faith and place in this tradition is much bigger than one single priest and some terrible church officials. It transcends victimization and unspent anger."
The scars, as readers might guess by now, are from Freitas's own experience of being stalked by a priest for over two years. She makes clear that Olivia is not her stand-in, that the narrative does not mimic her own. But she says that "I never could have conveyed the first-person emotion of what happens to Olivia or known how to get into the mind of a priest who would do such a thing as stalk a young woman."
As such, This Gorgeous Game is a work of deep empathy and disturbing believability. Readers spend their time inside the mind and heart of Peters, a cradle Catholic who has recently landed a prestigious writing prize from a local Catholic university. The prize includes enrollment in a summer writing program led by Mark Brendan, a priest and writer esteemed in church and intellectual circles. Olivia's father has been out of the picture for some time, she tells us early on—"but my older sister, Greenie, and I have had plenty of dads over the years, it's just that everyone calls them Fathers instead of Dads and they are married to the Catholic Church …. Now another one, another Father walks into my life. What luck."
Luck, readers learn quickly, is not the right word here. We watch the red flags of boundary-breaking and obsession go up as Father Mark fosters a mentoring relationship with Olivia. Flag #1: For their first writing session, he asks Olivia to meet him in a bar, where he sips scotch liberally, telling her, "I probably shouldn't say this ["then don't!" we say], but the moment I first saw you, I wondered to myself: how did so much talent, such insight and imagination, come from a girl so young, and with such startling beauty? … I am astounded by you, to be quite honest."
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